Most Fate fans would agree that Zouken Matou is among the, if not the most, despicable characters in the series. Not only does he look the part – appearing to be some unholy combination of Emperor Palpatine and Voldemort, but his practices in magecraft speak quite literally to the lowly being he has become.
The Matous (previously known as the Makiri before immigrating to Japan) was one of the three founding families of the Holy Grail War, along with the Einzberns and the Tohsakas. Initially wanting to attain the Holy Grail in order to make the world a better place, Zouken’s mental state began declining as he continuously used magecraft to prolong his life. When the audience meets him in Fate / Zero, all he can think of is using the Grail for immortality and prolonging his family’s declining bloodline.
Perhaps the most prominent member of the Matou family is the tragic heroine, Sakura Matou. She was originally born as Sakura Tohsaka but was given away by her father to Zouken to train as the next Matou family head. Having to endure torturous training involving the implantation of magical worms into her body, Sakura also has to put up with abuse from the family, namely from Shinji Matou, her adopted brother. Given their vague history and their importance in the story, a new Fate series or spin-off should be about the lives of the Matou family and their history.
The Matou Family’s Dubious Practices Raises Questions
What we know of the Matou family’s magecraft certainly is disturbing. The worms used in their magic seem to be multi-functional. On the one hand, in the case of Kariya Matou in Fate / Zero, they seem to be lending him power in exchange for feasting on his flesh. Also, as seen in Kariya’s fight against Tokiomi, he has control over the worms, even being able to make them evolve into wasp-like bugs.
However, in the case of Sakura, the Matou family’s adopted heir, the worms are stated to be developing her body to grant her the potential for magecraft so that she can either become a suitable host for Zouken or provide him with a decent heir for the next Holy Grail War.
As revealed in Heaven’s Feel route of the Fate / Stay Night visual novel, the Matou family did more than subjugate Sakura to the worm pit. Even putting Shinji’s abuse aside, the Matou family was said to relish her suffering, going so far as to poison her food to cause her pain while eating. Now the audience knows the reason behind this – to break her to become a suitable host for Angra Mainyu (whose power Zouken covets). So it would seem like this treatment was not personal. It was practical.
So what was her life like without them, even disregarding these things? Did they allow her to have possessions? Did she have an allowance? Did she buy the food? Its minute questions like these that crave details to really illuminate the horrors of the Matou family.
Zouken Matou’s Life Has Been Long & Mysterious
Zouken Matou, arguably the most sinister character in the Fate universe, is more than two hundred years old. He has been the patriarch of the Matou family ever since then, appearing to be the “father” to generations of Matous. The earliest thing that we know of his life is his founding of the Grail War, along with the Einzberns and the Tohsakas, in which he contributed the command seals used to control the servants. Ever since the failure of the first War, he has been using his worm magic to constantly extend his life. It is during this time that his life becomes mysterious. Was he always as monstrous as he was, or is that a new development during the Fourth Holy Grail War? If not, what kind of person was he?
Furthermore, we know that he had a romantic past with Justeaze Einzbern, the head of the Einzberns at the Holy Grail War’s creation. Justeaze gave her life to essentially become the Holy Grail itself, and Zouken’s pursuit of the Grail is strongly suggested to be a way of pursuing Justeaze. Seeing their relationship unfold, how they met, and how their personalities differed would be fascinating and worthy of its own spin-off.
Shinji & Sakura’s Childhood Relationship Should Be Explored
If asked who is the most despicable character in the Fate universe, most fans would either say Zouken Matou or his grandson, Shinji Matou. While Zouken is infinitely more inhuman and the more harmful existence at large, Shinji is simply a boy who should know better. He is a coward, cruel, and most significantly, an abuser and bully. He is severely entitled. Coming from the Matou family, he believes it is his destiny to lead them into the future.
He wasn’t always abusive towards Sakura; that came after he learned he wasn’t going to be groomed to take over the Matou house. However, before this, did they have a good relationship? Did he try and be a good brother if only out of condescension? Who was Shinji Matou before his fall? A spin-off series that answers this question would undoubtedly add dimension and depth to his character and perhaps even a sliver of sympathy.